Working Out: A Like Story

Listening to Food: A Love Story by Jim Gaffigan I laughed so hard I almost fell off the elliptical machine.

There are many things in the world that I hate.  Abortion, starving children, everything that comes out of Amy Schumer’s mouth (sadly, that now includes Old Navy), finding ants in the kitchen, taking the metro to the airport (I always end up exceptionally sweaty), the fact that North Korea has nuclear weapons.  A year ago I would have added “working out” to this list.

I played sports when I was young.  I swam and played basketball.  I was outside for a great deal of my childhood.  When my father died I gave up all of this.  He died in the parking lot of a state park after we had finished a hike.  He fell over dead in front of my mother, my younger brother, and me.

In my heart both nature and exercise had betrayed me.  After a “holy shit how have you not already had a heart attack!” hospitalization and surgery, my father did everything he was told to do.  He took his medication, changed his diet, swam everyday, and lost weight. One of my most vivid memories of my father is that at 4:30 in the morning he would grind coffee beans in our blender (we didn’t own a coffee grinder) to make his coffee before he went to the pool to swim before work and I would come downstairs to glare at him for waking me up.  (For his birthday my mom had helped me buy him a coffee grinder.  He died the day before his birthday, and she returned all the presents.  I have never owned a coffee grinder and I never will.  Whole bean coffee in my home is not a part of my life.)  Despite all his effort he died two years later.  Add to the fact that he died after we had been spending time “marveling at the glory of God’s creation” and getting some cardio (both of which I was complaining about loudly without cease, because I was sunburnt from my swim meet the day before) like good people should, and basically this is what my (almost) twelve year old brain came up with:

FUCK THAT EXERCISE AND EATING WELL BULLSHIT.  DOCTORS ARE LIARS.  NATURE IS A HIPPY LIE.  STAY INSIDE AND EAT WHATEVER THE FUCK IS IN FRONT OF YOU.

My twelfth birthday party happened to also be my father’s wake.  (I always win the “I hate my birthday” contest!)  There was cake for the wake, but my aunt also bought me a special birthday cake.  It was a chocolate cake with chocolate icing from the most expensive bakery in town.  She didn’t make me share.  She let me keep the whole thing for myself.  My extended family is a minefield of hurts, rivalries, misunderstandings, and grudges, but of this aunt I have never had one single unkind thought.

To add insult to injury, my father’s death (which was smack in the middle of an 18 month period which also saw the demise of my grandfather and grandmother) and my subsequent renouncing of all forms of movement happened to fall just as I was entering puberty.  Middle school kids are awkward.  All of them.  There is no exception to this rule.  Puberty does not discriminate based on race, gender, class, sexual orientation, or how adorable you were as an infant.  Seemingly overnight I became both uncomfortably tall and stout.  I became the equivalent of a potato with two toothpick stuck on the underside.  In the spring of 7th grade, about 9 months after his death, a boy in my class named Kevin followed my friend and me out of school one day.  I was taken out of class for mandatory counseling 3 times a week and this irked him that I didn’t have to be as bored as he was.  He was following us spouting some nonsense and I was crying.  Finally my friend turned to him and shouted “leave her the fuck alone her dad died!”  (I love that girl to this day.  She was the best.)  He laughed and replied “what did she do? Sit on him?”  In not the last rage black out of my life, I swung my backpack at Kevin and knocked him on his ass.  Guess who ended up in mandatory counseling 5 days a week?

This incident taught me two lessons.  One: guys are horrid.  Two: there is no excuse for being fat.  (I didn’t say they were good lessons.)  I was already convinced that a combination of systematic lies and my complaints had killed my father, and now I was discovering that being fat was proof of my guilt.  This whole mess of dysfunction has taken this last 20 plus years to untangle.  (Still a work in progress.)

I started to deal with that “outside” thing first.  A few years ago, in the second conversation I had with my AHM, I ended up telling him some of the details of my father’s death.  It is an unfortunate occurrence that our workshops are at the end of August, when I am the most maudlin about death and grief and my birthday.  I didn’t mean to be so chatty with a stranger who was suddenly my boss, but, things happen.  Sometimes, you talk because someone needs to tell you something.

AHM: “Did you ever go back to the state park?”

Me: “No.  I probably should go back.”

To be clear, I haven’t been back to that particular state park.  But, it pushed me to rethink my stance on the great outdoors.  A niggling feeling had been creeping up on me that I shouldn’t shun all outdoor pursuits, that maybe there was something to see that I would be sad to miss.  My AHM’s question was what I needed to realize that I didn’t have to be consumed by that feeling, but rather that I could change it.  Nature didn’t have to be tainted by my grief.

Over the last two years I have developed a true desire to be in nature.  I’ve come to look forward to camping and hiking.  I take my students on hikes, even though my sweating and labored breathing puts me at a serious power disadvantage.  Through sheer force of will I convinced my mother and sister that they wanted to spend part of their summer camping as well.  I’m researching what I would need to do to take a 6-week hike on the Appalachian Trail.  I don’t always freak out when confronted by a giant spider.

Consistent physical activity in order to improve my health, now that has taken a bit longer. I’ve gone through little bursts of “I’m going to lose weight!”  These periods last a few days, usually include a purchase of shoes, and after a couple humiliating trips to the gym, end with tears and ice cream.

10 months ago two thing happened in the same weekend.  I went to my 10 year collage reunion and my friend Andie got engaged.  In order to make it to my reunion I had to fly from DC to Dallas.  Trying to take my seat I realized that I didn’t fit.  I mean this.  I didn’t fit in the seat.  So, while internally panicking and thanking my past self for buying the upgrade to be in the first boarding group, I braced my hands on the overhead bins, aimed my hips, and shoved my ass into that seat.  I had to do the same thing on the flight home.  It was a nightmare.  Almost as soon as I touched down a group message came to me from my name-twin in Seattle.  Her boyfriend proposed and they’d be getting married in a year.  The confluence of these two events spurred me to take a new approach.

I contacted my friend Dan about advising me on a workout plan.  His wife, my dear friend Alissa, had told me he’d done this for his sister and she’d been really successful.  It was only the burn of humiliation I felt on the plane that allowed me to overcome my embarrassment in asking for help.  I was half convinced Dan would laugh at me and say “you’ll never be better than you are.”  Of course, he didn’t.  He came up with a plan.  I came up with a hashtag. (#DanFit)

I hated it at first.  I felt stupid.  My belly kept hitting the tops of my thighs.  I just wanted to eat everything.  (And I did!)

For a while nothing seemed to change.  I didn’t lose any weight.  I was starting to move a little easier, but I really looked about the same.  But I didn’t want to tell Dan that I was giving up.  There was this bit of public knowledge about what I was trying that kept the shame part of me from admitting that I would just rather be fat.  Slowly, and I mean slowly, it got easier for me to climb the stairs, my pants got looser, I started to see some muscle definition in my arms.  I still didn’t not-hate working out, but I didn’t hate hate it. It was working.

I was trying on a dress about a month ago.  In the dressing room I took off my jeans and shirt, slipped the dress over my head, and immediately thought, “yikes, I need to shave my legs.”  I turned in the mirror, went up on my tip-toes to see what heals might do for me, and took a picture of myself.  I was redressed and paying for the dress before it hit me.  I had had no anxiety in that dressing room.  I wasn’t angry or sad about the way I looked or the size of the dress.  I hadn’t turned away from the mirror while undressing.  I hadn’t wondered what I could skip eating to make the dress fit better.  I was a bit stunned.  I couldn’t remember a time when trying on clothes was anything but an embarrassing and stressful task.  I smiled to myself.  Maybe I could get behind this working out thing.

Today I was sweating like a beast.  My arms were in so much pain, because I’d taken about 3 (read 6) weeks off while I was at home visiting my mom and sister.  Yesterday I’d lifted for the first time since June, so each push and pull on that damn elliptical was a struggle.  Even so, I was so absorbed in listening to Jim Gaffigan talk about the difference between being a foodie and an eatie that I completely forgot to hate working out.  I wasn’t screaming in my head “this is the worst and I hate everything so fucking much I want to barf!” and there was enough space in my brain to follow sentences.  Apparently, if you just keep at it long enough, you can both struggle to stay upright and laugh at the same time.

I guess I could say I like working out.  (Almost.)

(4 Years, 10 Months, and 22 Days Sober)

 

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My Fake Smile and My Real Plan

I should be working out, but instead I am freaking out.  Just a little.

Or a lot.

Our faculty workshops start in about a week and a half.  Specifically, on my birthday.  This is my time to mentally prepare for another year of too little sleep and too much work.  It isn’t my first rodeo; I know that I need to relax, enjoy my last few stress free days, and set up my new grade book.

Instead all I can think is “what if it’s horrible.”  Last school year was kind of miserable for me.  There were the normal struggles of teaching young children, plus the demands of special needs students, and the difficulties of a growing school.  Those things take a toll on me, but don’t make me spend months crying and unable to do anything but sleep.  (Seriously, I slept all the time last school year, but I was always tired.  It was like in high school when I had mono.)  No, last school year was something different.

Last summer a woman about 10 years younger than me, with less teaching experience, was promoted over me.  A person that I refer to as a “girl” (rightly or wrongly) became my superior, able to make decisions that affected my professional life.    When I had an idea I had to get her approval.  I was supposed to go to her to resolve conflicts with my coworkers.  (This didn’t happen, since the co-worker I came into conflict most often is her best friend and roommate.  I just let my anger fester and eat me alive.)

I had been led to believe that I would be the one advancing.  To say her promotion came as a shock would understate it.  It crushed me.  I was in such disbelief that we were halfway through the school year before I even admitted what it meant.  It wasn’t just that she was promoted.  I would not be promoted.  It wasn’t until the end of the school year that I finally let that sink in.  She will be the head of the organization one day, because the board picked her.  Picked her.  Not me.

Not me.

Not me is a familiar feeling.  Now, I’m much more used to it in a romantic context rather than a professional one.  In collage I was so used to “hey, who’s your friend over there?” that I simply gave up on the idea that any man would ever be interested in me.  I have watched my friends post endlessly on Facebook about their ever expanding families, and when I feel jealously well up inside me I tell myself “I have a career where I am appreciated and valued, and where I will continue to grow.”

(FYI, in AA, this is called “judging my insides by other peoples’ outsides.”  It’s not a good look on me.)

But in a small organization there is only so much space.  And when looking toward the future the people who get to make the choice looked at her and looked at me and picked her.  There is no reason she shouldn’t be the horse they bet on.  She is bright, energetic, dedicated, and well liked by the parents of our more troubled students.  She will mature into a perfectly competent head of school someday.

But see how tortured that compliment is?  That is what I am left with.  I can feel the pain of rejection expanding and contracting in my chest like a softball of fire.  I want to scream “It should have been me!” and slam doors.  I have to stop myself from being annoyed by everything that she says and does and remember to treat her with the respect she is owed as my superior.  I have to balance my innate desire to excel at my job and the hurt little brat in me that wants to yell “fuck you all!” as she speeds out of the parking lot.

I need to rectify this in the next 10 days.  I must find some peace before I walk into endless meetings and argue about which books we really “need.”  I’m working on a plan.  It’s a bit sparse, but here it is: enjoy my year with my students.  That’s all I’ve got so far.  But as far as goals go, it isn’t a bad one.  I’m going to try and concentrate on making the best class I can for my students, and staying on the side of administrative side where I am wanted, that is, out of it.  I have been told by many people that I have an amazing capacity to smile when I really want to rip someone’s head off (which is trait I am actually quite sad about, but that is another story), so I have every confidence that if I really try, I can smile.

It’s not a prefect plan.  Neither are my other plans.  But they will be someday.  I signed up for the GRE and I am investigating graduate programs for an education degree.  This is most likely my last school year at my school.  Probably my last year in Maryland.  I don’t really know where I want to go, or how I am going to get there, but that’s okay right now.  The plans will come together.

A year from now I will be grateful for the closing of this door.  I will be thankful that it was not me.  Every rejection in my life has forced me to build my life into something greater.  I have found more opportunity by being passed over than I ever would have if I were given what I was determined that I wanted.  I trust that this will be the same.  Eventually.  The fireball of rejection will become the fireball of motivation.

Not tonight.  Tonight I’ll just get through my work-out.

(4 Years, 10 Months, and 21 Days Sober)

Yard Work

I waited until 9AM.

A few weeks ago the lawn service my neighbor’s use showed up at 8AM and set to work.  Later that evening my neighbor sent out an email on the neighborhood list serve apologizing for the sound of mowers waking everyone on the block.  So, I decided to wait until 9AM.

Today was Day 2 of the Battle of the Yard my housemates and I have waged against the seemingly unending ivy.  Yesterday was a chopping, weed-whacking, raking, swearing bonanza.  On the bright side, we found the back fence, which had been missing for a while.  Working solo today I was on a mowing, edging, sweeping mission.  I was going to make our yard look pretty, dammit, even if it killed me.

I want to hate yard work (or as we call it at our house “lard work” because my roommate tried to say “yard” and “lawn” at the same time).  I don’t.  I’m not saying I look forward to it.  It is pretty humiliating, considering how much I sweat.  But, I like mowing the lawn.

Yard work makes me feel connected to my father.  I don’t have a great deal of memories about my father, but I distinctly remember yard work.  Every couple Saturdays in the summer my father would wake up any of my siblings living at home and me.  The littlest kid would have to get all the sticks out of the lawn.  My father would mow the lawn with the push mower.  The kids would rake and bag up the grass.  My father would edge the lawn with an edger that sounded like a moose dying.  Then out came the old brooms and the giant aluminum dust pan and we’d sweep all the sidewalks.  It was a long, exhausting day.  The whole time my mom would be weeding the flowerbeds or pruning the bushes or deadheading the rhododendrons (worst job ever!).  There was no escape from yard work.

I think there are people who would say that it is sad how many memories I have of yard work, considering the short time I had with my father.  I disagree.  There were family vacations, holidays, parties, dinners, swim meets, basketball games, and trips to our local AAA baseball team.  My father taught me how to read the stock report in the newspaper.  My childhood was not some Dickensian nightmare.  But, as I grow older, the parties seem less important than the yard work.

I love my father.  I miss him.  I’ve missed him a lot the last two years.  But I am grateful of the example he set.  I am happy that I know I can do yard work with out complaining.  You see, I don’t remember my father complaining about the yard work.  He may have.  I know he complained about other things.  (When I complain too much my mother just throws up her hands and says “You’re just like your father!”) I just don’t remember him complaining about the mowing, edging, raking, and sweeping.  I complained about all of it.  I hated it.  I especially hated the sweeping. I couldn’t seem to make it clear to all the adults that sweeping the sidewalk was stupid.

Today I swept the sidewalk when I finished edging the front lawn.  I smiled, and said “I love you” to my dad, and finished the job I started.  I didn’t whine or give up.

Thanks Dad.  I love you.  Happy Father’s Day

IMG_2320

This is my cemetery-selfie!  

(4 Years, 8 Months, and 29 Days Sober)

Siren Songs of May

In May I obsessively listen to Lady Gaga’s “Applause.”

I mean obsessively.  I listen to it about 10 times a day.

May is a stressful time in teaching.  It is also a stressful time in sobriety.  So, as some sort of strange ironic outlet, I press repeat on a song that is the exact opposite of everything about my life.

I never thought I could be as concurrently exhausted and keyed-up as I am in May.  In May I plan out the last few lessons of the year and I am inevitably hit with the thought: “This is how far I got?  This is it?”

There is always so much left.  So many concepts I don’t think they’ve mastered.  So many stories we didn’t get to read.  So many mistakes I could seem to find a way to correct.  The whole month seems like carnival arrows lit up and pointing at me: “Come See the Amazing Failing Teacher!”

I feel overwhelmed with guilt.  Guilt for the days when I was tired and didn’t put in 100 percent of my effort and attention.  Guilt for the days when I just wanted to concentrate on a certain subject and pushed of the one I found less interesting that day.  Guilt for the time wasted in anger or frustration.  Guilt for the extra recess and the early clean-up.  Guilt for being so thankful for snow days and late arrival and half-day dismissal.  Guilt for the things I promised myself I would do last summer and I just didn’t do.  Guilt for turning back work later than I promised.  Guilt for not planning enough field trips.  Guilt for spending time worrying about my co-workers deficiencies instead of working to correct my own.

But, I am fully aware of just how useless guilt is.  Most of the time one is not experiencing a genuine call of the conscience or sincere sorrow for one’s sins.  Run of the mill guilt most of the time boils down to “I wish I had done things differently.”  And there is no end to that feeling; the more you feed it the more it grows.  For each choice you regret, there is the choice that led to that choice, which you can then regret, and so on.  I am all for admitting my mistakes and there are many.  But “I wish I done things differently” is focusing on the person you thought you should have been if only you were smarter, prettier, holier, better.  “If I were a better teacher, I wouldn’t have taken that extra 20 minutes for recess instead of grammar.”

Am I responsible for the times I willfully didn’t fulfill my responsibilities? Yes.

Is there a version of me who makes no mistakes? Fuck no.

The sad truth is that by May I’m too exhausted to combat the lies that fuel the guilt that eats the spirit that animates the life that is me.  I have no emotional reserves left to face reality with calm and gratitude.  If I’m able to express any facet of my internal life, it mostly just comes out as hysterical sobbing and the phrase “I am just so tired.”  (That was my go to phrase in high school to explain all of my behavior.  And for the semester that I had mono, that was accurate.)  In many respects, May is just a month I must white-knuckle it through with the promise of “summer.”

The promise of “summer” is where one must tread carefully on sobriety road.  Summer is a season, “summer” is a concept.  “Summer” is a chimera of relaxation, peace, sunshine, togetherness, memories, ice-cream, and ease.  And “summer” is territory of the happy-drinker.  Gin and tonics in the sunset.  Cold beer at the ball game.  White wine at the picnic.  The image of calendar period of pleasant weather and blithe socializing is inextricably linked to the image of merry imbibing of alcoholic beverages.

One lie will always beget another.  While weaving bucolic images it’s nearly impossible to be just a little sad that I cannot be the happy-drinker.  For me there is no “summer” that is not followed by the “winter” of binges, isolation, and eventual death.

So what is the truth?  The truth is I will make it through May.  I will learn of my mistakes, and I will forgive myself for my imperfections.  I will plan to spend my time off pursing all of the wonderful things about summer with a cold LaCroix instead of a PBR.  I will remind myself, as often as necessary, the most fundamental truth that the alcoholic loses sight of first: there is no other me.

And I will listen to a silly song over and over again.

(4 Years, 7 Months, and 29 Days Sober)

I Hate the Word Nice, and I Refuse to Covet It

I have found myself lately in the idiotic position of having to defend myself as “nice.”  Well, after a few weeks of this, I have only one thing to say.

Fuck this.

I don’t want to be “nice.”  Nice is how you describe a person who has no identifiable personality traits.  And it is a word that is always used with some hesitancy.  “He or she is a…nice…person.”  No one says the word nice as applied to another person with any sort of authority.

Because it doesn’t mean anything.  If this word at one point had a concrete meaning, it is long since lost.  Nice is a catch-all for “not an asshole.”  Sometimes, the person you are calling is an asshole, but just not enough of one to call him or her an asshole.  There is no moral imperative behind the concept of being nice.  There is no ethics of nice.  It is a non-thing that has become the all seeing eye of Sauron of social behavior.

Okay, so what set me off on this tirade against the concept of “nice?”  For the last couple weeks my students have been grumbly.  It’s the end of the school year.  They are tired.  I am a burnt husk of a human being.  I’m finding it hard to shower on a daily basis, I am so emotionally exhausted.  Into this cauldron of doom known as May, my students have added their assessment that while other teachers at our school are nice, I am not.  For 9-year-olds, this seems to be the be all and end all of put downs.  Now, the opinions of children should be rather irrelevant to me, as an adult, but apparently, they are not alone.  Yesterday, when she wasn’t paying close attention to her words, a college said “oh it’s good you were absent yesterday, your students had such a nice day.”

Bitch, what?

I neither respect nor enjoy this particular co-worker, so I didn’t feel hurt by her claim that my students were better off without me.  Rather, I was intellectually offended that a grown woman would describe something as “nice” what what she really meant was chaotic.    Her version of a “nice” day in school is one with inconsistent and unprepared instruction, ever shifting behavioral expectations, and a goal of “whatever we get done.”  And why is that?  Oh yes, because a group of 9-year-olds had a day exempt from their customary routines and structures provided by an experienced and disciplined teacher, and so of course they took advantage.  That is the nature of having to take a day off.  I fully understand the difficulties facing substitute teachers, and I take a “what happens with the sub stays with the sub” attitude towards it.

But don’t tell me how “nice” their fucking day was without me.

Nice is such a vague word that it is essentially dishonest.  We use it to absolve ourselves of the responsibility of our own opinions.  My co-worker approaches teaching as adult facilitated self-indulgence for children.  But she calls it having a “nice” day.  I approach teaching as an adult responsibility to foster the intellectual and moral development of my students.  That requires compassion, charity, and more patience than I ever thought I could muster.  It does not require me to be nice.

So, quite frankly, the world is welcome to nice.  I have neither the time nor the desire for such a wishy-washy concept.  I know who I am.  I know that I am brave, intelligent, hard-working, resilient, funny, empathetic, and fair.  I am know that I am also irritable, stubborn, childish, maudlin, and rash.  I don’t fucking need nice.

Keep nice, you’re more than welcome to it.

(4 years, 7 Months, 22 Days Sober)

 

If You Don’t Have Something Nice to Say, Then You Are Probably Me

Stop complaining.

That was the gist of the Easter homily I heard.  Fr. Jedi said much more, of course.  (Really dude, a short homily, just once.)  But his main point was that if we really are an Easter people, then we can’t dump our petty complaints onto everyone we meet.

I really needed to hear this.  I complain all the time.  I complain about how much I complain.  I complain about my job.  I complain about my co-workers.  I complain about people I know.  I complain about people I don’t know.  I complain about being single.  I complain about people making me feel bad for being single.  I complain about social media.  I complain on social media.  I complain about not having enough time to accomplish my goals.  I complain about not having any goals and wasting all me time watching TV.  I complain that there aren’t any good shows anymore.  I complain about being broke.  I complain about having too many possessions.

Obviously, I need to shut up.

Or at least be consistent in what I complain about.

But no, really, I should shut up.

The nice thing about Fr. Jedi is that he doesn’t give all the answers.  Usually he “wants to give you something to think about.”  And it usually isn’t 1 thing, it’s more like 5 things, but he always says it’s 3 things.  And yes, I am just so childish that I count.

Complaining is easy.  There is nothing simpler than finding fault.  If you’re me, it’s a super-power.  Complaining is basically the human condition.  Even given all the luxury of the Garden, Eve was pretty easily convinced that she was missing out on something.  (I think my favorite thing about teaching religion class to 8 year olds is that they always say if they were Eve they wouldn’t have eaten the apple. And I get to say, “yes, you would have.” Small victories.)  We know that nothing will every be perfect, and for some reason we see that as an excuse to nit-pick things which are really fine.

Complaining turns everything into a burden.  There are no blessings in life.  Everything is just a sliding scale of shitty.  A sunny day means that I’m going to get sunburnt.  Losing 5 pounds just reminds me of how many more pounds I have to lose.  (Until what exactly, I’m not sure.)  A text from a friend is an indictment about what a crappy friend I’ve been.  Complaining isn’t a recognition of genuine struggles in life.  Complaining is the self-inflicted misery of concentrating on the apple that is out of reach.

A week ago my complaining crashed down around me.  Months of endless harping on all that I saw wrong with every aspect of the world finally made me a liar.  I flat out lied to my boss.  Not evaded, not hedged.  Lied.  I blamed someone else for something that is my fault.  It took a day, but I came clean.  I took back what I said, told my boss the truth, and apologized.  I had that to think about going into Easter.  How had I come to the point where I lied?

And because God is (always) looking out for me, I got my answer, through Fr. Jedi.  Wrapped in the comfort of continual complaint, I had built a reality on lies of omission.  Complaining omits good.  Complaints are lies; small at first, but ever expanding and increasing.

So Lent might be over, but that is just the groundwork.  I proved to myself that I can give up sugar for 40 days.  Learning how to see what is good when I really want to expose the smallest flaw, not that is going to be a challenge.

(4 Years, 6 Months, and 10 Days Sober)

An Early Easter Gift

I was talking with my mother the other day about praying for immediate and tangible results.  This isn’t a prayer tactic I often engage in.  For that matter, neither does my mother.  Starting in the early years of CCD I was taught not to approach prayer like a heavenly vending machine.  It is an interesting question to ask yourself: is there a time when I can ask God to be on my schedule?

Yesterday I was teaching vocabulary.  I have had a dismal school year.  I have had trouble emotionally connecting to my students.  As hokey as that sounds, it does make a difference in early elementary school if you care about your students or not.  The administration has been in flux.  There has been a pervasive lack of communication, leading to unnecessary squabbles and a shit ton of resentment.  I’ve come close to quitting on multiple occasions.  The worst part is that I have closed myself off from my friends because I am afraid of boring them with my endless complaining about work.  The more I closed myself off, the more I felt like work was all I had in my life, and the more I hated work.  See that cycle spin!

I have wondered time and again how I have found myself in this position: angry, alone, and hating my job.  This isn’t the first time I’ve held such a view of my life.  But now I ask myself not, “what did I do wrong” but rather “is what I did so wrong that this is the result?”

Yesterday, in the middle of the vocabulary lesson my AHM came into my room.  He had with him a woman about my age.  One of our staff members is leaving at the end of the school year, and he is already interviewing for her replacement.  He introduced me to the woman.

“And I believe you attended the same graduate program.”

Who to the what now?

Turns out, this woman and I were in the same graduate program at the same time.

I do not remember her.  I had a vague impression that she was familiar, and I can easily picture her in my grad classes, but I have no memory of her at all.  As my AHM tried in vain to jog my memory using dates I became acutely aware that there was only one explanation for my lapse, and it was not for public consumption.

Of course I don’t remember her.  I was drunk.

There are parts of my life that are hazy at best, but really are just missing.  Months that passed, but all impressions of those times were drowned in cheap wine and sometimes really expensive vodka.

I expected a backlash of shame.  I thought that as it sunk in throughout the day that I had faced a person who was simply erased from my experience I would be overcome with regret for how I lived my life.  I wasn’t.  In fact, the opposite happened.

I thanked God for the immediate and tangible answer to my prayer.  I don’t need to be angry.  I don’t need to be alone.  I don’t need to hate my job.  I am not being punished for dropping out of grad school, moving to a new place without a job, and basically fucking up my life for quite a while.  I’m not.  I’m really okay.

Here was this woman, who by my understanding had lived out the plan I had made for my own life.  She had finished her master’s degree in the program we both attended.  She had applied and been received into the PhD program that I had planned to enroll in.  And she is applying to work at the same school where I already have five school years of experience.  A place where I am established, have built an excellent employment record, and am respected by (some if not all) of colleagues.

I could have ended up in exactly the same place as I already am.

I’ve made a lot of mistakes.  But maybe, just maybe, none of those mistakes irrevocably derailed the course of my life.

As soon as I sent my students to music class I texted a friend who had been in grad school with me (and this other woman, apparently).  I was shocked to find out that he had changed his phone number.  And there was the other side of it.  I didn’t fuck up a perfect future of success and satisfaction, but I do need to handle my shit.

(4 Years, 6 Months, and 3 Days Sober)

You Saw the Pope and I Cleaned My Bathroom

I’d like to thank Pope Francis for the most productive day I’ve had in a while.

I had the day off of work today.  A random Wednesday off isn’t something I look for until around January, when the snow drifts in.  But, and this is a secret now, the Pope is in DC today, and so my school closed to allow everyone to go down to the Mall and have a peek.

I stayed home.

I’m not big on crowds.  I don’t mind them as much as I used to, but they are not something I seek out.  I’m especially not big on Catholic crowds.  When I said this to co-workers the last couple days I received looks ranging from mild horror to gentle puzzlement.  Is she serious?  Or in the case of new people who joined this year and I’ve only known for a few weeks, is she Catholic?  I’m both serious and Catholic.  After an unfortunate experience at a canonization I sort of soured on large-scale religious events.

And this saved me from having to explain to anyone that when it comes down to it, I just don’t want to see the Pope.

I am what is called a revert.  I left the Church for a time.  About 4 years, maybe 5.  It’s hard to remember.  I didn’t go join another church, unless you count my trinity at the time: Vodka, gin, and whiskey.  In fact, I didn’t have any theological disagreements with Catholicism.  I didn’t really change my position on hot-button social issues, and I never stopped believing in the tenets of the Faith.  Honestly, I just didn’t want to do what God wanted.  I had come to see God’s will as a lifetime of misery for me that would provide happiness for others and I was real fucking tired of it, so I decided to stop.  It’s a common problem, plenty of people face it.  I had simply come to believe that God hated me.  Of course, God didn’t hate me.  And in fact, God wasn’t really asking all that much of me at the time.  Now, I kind of wonder what I was really bitching about, but it isn’t dreadfully important.  Funny enough, a life-saving conversion experience will mellow you out about some of the pettier shit.

A few months into my sobriety I made the choice to return to the Church.  It has been a rocky path to say the least.  I managed to rejoin just at the moment when they decided to change all the prayers in the Mass, so I didn’t even have the familiarity of habit to ease me back into it.  More troubling, it didn’t seem to matter which parish I went to, either out of geographical proximity or hour of convenience, I seemed bombarded by people happy to tell me how I should think, and feel, and speak, but without very much to say about, well, God.  Three and half years of soppy, emotive, self-indulgent sermons, exhortations on boutique charisms offering “community,” and seemingly endless capacity of holiness one-upmanship has often left me with the feeling that as I am is as holy as I will be, the dampening sense that my soul will not grow, because no one is talking about souls.

Sobriety is a struggle.  Not always the late-night-sweating-staring-at-a-bottle struggle you see in movies.  More often it’s a struggle of the is-this-worth-it? variety.  But there is a common phrase in AA: “don’t leave before the miracle happens.”  And, sadly, I find myself in a similar struggle in Mass sometimes.  Not, is God worth it? Rather, can I do it, can I keep myself in this seat through one more long-winded, poorly organized, tent-revival stump speech everyone else is calling a homily?  Can I make it to the miracle?  Can I keep myself from running screaming into the night (or on occasion, early morning) when well-meaning idiots try to peddle to me social status and Catholic cache wrapped up in the words of religious education?  Can I keep the ultimate salvation of the human race through the sacrifice of the Almighty Creator in the forefront of my mind when it seems like that is the last thing anyone wants to talk about?

That which is cared for by humans is subject to the environment it inhabits, and the Church in the metropolitan DC area is no exception.  The Church is the Bride of Christ, and Christ is Christ, but the people in the Church are just people.  And the people of DC have a strong tendency to be competitive, snobby, vain, and dismissive.  I sat through a homily on Sunday during which the priest railed against another priest in the diocese for upholding basic, run-of-the-mill, practices as an example of a lack of love and understanding on the part of priests.  The horrifying act for which this (thankfully) unnamed local priest committed, for which he should be publicly castigated?  Telling a young woman that to be married at a particular parish one needs to be a member of that parish.  And she was sad about that, because it made getting what she wanted harder.  Boo fucking hoo.  Even if this had been an appropriate anecdote to relay in a homily, which it isn’t, and even if there was not a bit of a logic-problem using a single, out of context, example to condemn an entire institution as lacking love and understanding (dude, it’s almost like I’m talking about race right now!), the priest giving the homily GOT THE WRONG MORAL LESSON OUT OF IT!  He stood in front of a large gathering of blithely affirmative people and told them that the Catholic Church is around to pander to the desires of each and every individual because no one should ever get their feelings hurt.  I could almost hear the John Stewart-esque self-satisfied musing that accompanied the right-on head nods: “oh man, he just DESTROYED that mean priest!”  So then he talked about Pope Francis’ visit for 15 minutes.  I tuned him out.

The Pope is the dually appointed head of the Catholic Church.  He is infallible on matters of morals and doctrine.  On matters political, scientific, and cultural, he is as fallible as the guy before him, and the guy that will follow him.  My personal feelings about him, one way or another, are essentially irrelevant.  It doesn’t matter if I am a “fan” or not.

But, when Pope Francis speaks, my soul is not lifted to God.  Maybe that’s me, maybe that’s him.  Maybe if I had gone downtown today I would have experienced something that would have changed my mind completely and helped me to understand why other people are not so upset to see the authority of the Church squandered on trivial issues and terrible misunderstandings of basic economics.  Or maybe it would be exactly as I assume: the Catholic version of DC social jockeying, just on a larger scale.  I guess I will never know.

What I do know is that I paid my bills today.  I brought in the garbage can and recycling bin from the street so that my housemate didn’t have to do it when she came home.  I cleaned the bathroom and ran laundry.  I took the time offered to me to put my life in a little bit better order than it was before.

Hey, look, dignity of work!  Pope Francis should be proud of me.

(4 Years and 3 Days Sober)

To Mary, My Eternal Gratitude

Wedding receptions can be awkward.  They are even more awkward when one of your friends says that she can’t stop drinking.

Just ask my friend Mary.

Mary and I could not be more different.  We met our freshman year of college because we lived a few doors away from each other, and I think our roommates had met.  Physically, Mary and I are opposites.  She is willowy, tan, and blonde.  I’m round, pale, and brunette.  But those are the least of our differences.  Mary is fun, mischievous, friendly, gentle, humble, gracious, and compassionate.  It is no surprise that she became a NICU nurse.

In that first year of our friendship I often wondered why she was friends with me.  Why would someone pretty, popular, and adventurous want to hang out with a sullen, angry, misanthrope?  I never got an answer to that question, other than the obvious one: because Mary loved me.

Mary wasn’t the only one who loved me despite my abject disagreement with their decision, but she made it look effortless.  I can only remember one instance when Mary lost her temper with me, and I totally deserved it.  Mary had held my hand while I cried, she had made me laugh even when I really didn’t want to, and she had always been willing to listen.

I knew before I got on the plane to go to Marissa’s wedding that I was in trouble.  In fact, I had known for almost a year.  There had been the nights lost on binges and the days recovering from binges.  There was the job I was barely hanging on to, the threat of being fired hurled at me from my boss almost every day.  There were the periods of shaking I was convinced was the onset of MS, but turns out were just DTs.  Going into what was supposed to be a beautiful celebration of love and an exciting weekend to catch up with long-time friends, I already knew in my heart I was going to die.  I knew that I had been trying to die since I was 12, and that of all the methods I’d tested out, alcohol was the only constant, the winner.  I knew that for once, I was going to achieve a goal.  I hadn’t gotten thin (although, at the time, I was so sick from drinking that I did weight less), I hadn’t finished my Master’s degree, I hadn’t become a loved wife.  But I was going to achieve my death, because there was simply nothing inside of me that wanted to live.

And I was willing to let it go there.  I didn’t go to California looking for help.  In fact, I think I went to say goodbye.  I went finally have it be over, to close the last connections, outside of my family, I had to the person I had once been.  In the ways that mattered I was already gone, lost as Kathleen would put it later, and I think I needed to see them to accept that it was over.  I was over.

In the midst of the wedding ceremony I lost my hearing.  It was only for about two minutes, but I could not hear any sound.  It should have been terrifying, but it had happened to me before.  Up from the smallest spark left of my soul I heard only one sentence.

This is wrong.

I was shaken.  I didn’t understand.  It took me months to understand.  But I didn’t need to understand.  I just needed to hear that there we something still alive inside of me.

I had a few glasses of wine at the reception.  But I could sense the wrongness.  For the first time in years I couldn’t muster my own arguments of why I deserved to get drunk.  I couldn’t manage to plan for the next drink while half-way through the current one.  Something was wrong, and I had to find it.

Mary and I went to the balcony to have a cigarette.  I don’t remember exactly what she asked me, probably something along the lines of “are you alright, you seem upset?”  And I’m not completely sure what I said to her in return, but it was probably, “I think I’m an alcoholic.  I’m trying to drink myself to death.”  We stood out on that balcony talking for a long time.  We missed the toasts.  We smoked a lot of cigarettes. Various people came out to check on us.  I don’t remember what we said.  I just don’t.  Some conversations stick in my head word for word.  But this one, the one that saved my life is almost a complete blank.

Because it was Mary, not her words that saved my life.  Make no mistake, Mary saved my life.  She simply loved me then, the way she had loved me for years.  With a patience I cannot ever understand and a heart of kindness I can only hope to emulate a fraction of someday, Mary became of real person to me in a way no one had been in so long.  Her existence, the singular person God made, were a thread of reality I could feel attaching to me, because her love attached to me.  Her love was real, and for a moment it made me real again, and that moment was enough.

I flew back to Maryland at the ass-crack of dawn the next day.  I cried the entire flight.  I cried the whole night.  I cried off and on all day at work, especially when I sent an email to six people.  In the midst of those tears I made a decision.  I told those six people what I was going to do.  And that night I did it.  I called the national Alcoholics Anonymous hotline and found the time and location of a meeting near me.  The next night I went.

That night was 4 years ago.  I have been sober for 4 years.  Some days I cannot remember what it was like to drink, it seems like such a far away dream.  Some days I cannot remember why I stopped, it seems like such a cruel injustice.  Many days I don’t think about it one way or another, I’m just too busy.  There have been so many tears, more than a few chuckles, a few awkward moments when people ask me to share with them things I’m not ready to share.  (Just some general advice, when someone refuses a drink, just say “ok,” and move on.  Don’t ask why, don’t ask them if they are sure, don’t say, “it’s just one.”  All bad ideas.  “Ok,” and move on.)  My family and friends have given me more love, support, and understanding than I can ever recount, but I’ll keep trying.

Mary deserves a special thank you.  I can never thank Mary the way she should be, because I don’t know that I will ever fully appreciate the grace of God that worked through her.  I believe God will thank her in the next life.  My words will never be enough.  But I always give them to her.

Thank you Mary.  You saved my life.

(4 Years Sober)

You Just Found Out Planned Parenthood Is Evil?

Two weeks ago, standing in line at a grocery store, I overheard the following conversation.

Male Cashier: Oh hey!  Great to see you.  Where are you working now?

Woman 1: Hi!  I just started a new job at the Planned Parenthood down the street.

Male Cashier: Right on!  I’ve heard it’s really nice over there.

Woman 1: It is.  It’s great.

Male Cashier: Way to go, providing such a service.

Woman 1: I know, right?

Woman 2: Support!

Male Cashier: Well, great.  And good to know someone there, if I should ever need, you know..

Woman 1: I’ll be there!

I admit, I am one of those people that Pro-Lifers think are the problem.  I had to choke down my urge to yell “BABY KILLERS!” in the middle of Whole Foods and start throwing the contents of my basket at the smug bastards.  (Now in all honesty, the bottle of sunscreen might have done some damage, but the wedge of brie would have probably made a ineffectual projectile.)  I don’t want to reach out with love and compassion.  I want to scream.  And then scream some more.

But after I’m done screaming, I’d like to know how it is possible for people to be so stupid.

I want to ask that young woman if she knows who Margaret Sanger is.  I want to know how she balances all of her politically correct views with the fact that she works for a company founded for the purpose of preventing “undesirable” (read: poor and non-white) populations from increasing and that was given accolades by Nazi leader Adolf Hitler?  How, exactly, does one square that circle?

I want to ask the cashier why he is planning ahead for the abortion he cannot even bring himself to name?  Does he dislike the women he has sex with so much that the normal biological result of that sex is too fearsome a possibility to comprehend?  Has he considered the possibility that if he were a better man, a woman he impregnates might actually want NOT to murder their child?

How can people lie to themselves like this?

Which brings us to today.  My Facebook has been like a broken record today, the same “shocking” video posted and reposted.  A video in which a Planned Parenthood employee discusses the sale of fetal tissue.  Yes, one human being talking about selling the parts of of another human being.  Make no mistake, this is completely disgusting.  But the only shock should be the depths of the depravity, not the depravity itself.  If you are “shocked” that Planned Parenthood is evil, you have made the decision to lie to yourself.

Planned Parenthood has, for decades, made millions of dollars by killing children in the womb.  That is not a secret.  An abortion is to end the life of a child by human intervention.  And Planned Parenthood is the largest abortion provider in the country.  All the therapeutic euphemisms that men and women have come up with to avoid these facts are the little lies that help them swallow the bigger lies.

I am not a peaceful prayer of rosaries in front of abortion clinics.  I should be, but I am not.  I am not, because I feel no peace about it.  I want to scream and throw cheese.  I admire people who are gentle, who want to reach out to women and guide them to choosing life.  I’m grateful that the world has people who minister to former abortion industry workers.  I am humbled in the fact that God’s grace and forgiveness are available to all the repentant, me included.  But my heart is not open in love on this issue, because my mind cannot find the answer to my fundamental question.

How can you lie to yourself this way?

One lie begets another.  And the lie that seems to animate so many lives, that allows for lies like abortion to exist, is this: I will be unhappy unless I have sex.

This is a lie I have believed at various time in my life.  It’s easy to fall prey to, because it is interwoven into every cultural expression in public life.  During the Clinton administration, the surgeon general gave testimony in front of congress on the health benefits of masturbation.  “Virgin” is a word to be whispered in shame by doe-eyed recluses dressed like they have just escaped an Amish POW camp.  If your cable-network show doesn’t contain the proper nudity-to-run-time ratio, it’s unlikely you’ll be picked up for a second season.  We are at the point where is it is no longer a proposition, it is an assumption: sex makes you happy, lack of sex makes you unhappy.

Questioning this assumption will make you look like a rube, or shrew.  I don’t consider myself either.  (No joke, I can be a stone-cold bitch sometimes, but really, that is only on occasion.)  I don’t deny that sex is pleasurable.  But I deny that it is the key to happiness.  It just isn’t.  It doesn’t have that much power.  Sex only has that kind of power if you lie to yourself and believe that it does.  Sex will function just like any other basket (money, power, internet-sensation status) in which you put all of your emotional and spiritual eggs: your life will become a problem with one solution and you will destroy anything that threatens that solution.

(3 Years, 9 Months, and 24 Days Sober)